The defense budget has emerged as one of the most hotly debated congressional issues this week. Disagreements over a $5 billion missile defense site — Republicans say the facility is necessary but Democrats, along with the Pentagon, report the project is unnecessary — was eventually backed by the House Armed Services Committee under Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon’s (R-CA) chairmanship. And in the presidential race, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, if elected, would increase military spending $2.1 trillion and hasn’t said how he would pay for it.
While House Republicans and the Romney campaign are eager to preserve, if not expand, the Pentagon’s budget, new polling data shows that Americans underestimate the size of the defense budget and, after seeing information on the size of defense spending, endorse defense spending cuts.
The poll, conducted by the Center for Public integrity, the Program for Public Consultation (PPC) and the Stimson Center finds that when shown the discretionary budget for national defense alongside the discretionary budgets for education, veterans’ benefits, homeland security and various other spending areas, 65 percent of respondents found Defense spending to be more than what they had expected. Overall, respondents would cut the budget by 18 percent. Republicans cut an average of 12 percent and Democrats 22 percent.
The respondents’ high support for cutting the defense budget might be explained by the presentation of discretionary defense spending alongside other budget items. “This suggests that Americans generally underestimate the size of the defense budget and that when they receive balanced information about its size they are more likely to cut it to reduce the deficit,” said Steven Kull, director of PPC.
By a large percentage, the poll showed that Americans favored cutting the budget for nuclear weapons (27 percent) but the budget for existing ground forces was picked by respondents for the biggest cuts in dollar terms, $36.2 billion in average cuts or 23 percent.
While the Romney campaign and the GOP-controlled House Armed Services Committee appear intent on protecting existing military spending and introducing new projects for funding — whether the Pentagon asks for it or not — the U.S. public is firmly opposed to the current defense spending levels.